In the early hours of 10 November 1944, 8,000 German soldiers flooded the streets of Rotterdam. They lay a cordon around the city, took up position on the bridges and squares and shut down the telephone service. They distributed pamphlets ordering all men ages 17 to 40 years to report for tewerkstelling (employment in the service of Germany.
The men were instructed to bring specific things they would need and to wait on the street with their luggage. All other residents were told to stay inside their homes until the raid was over. For two days, the Germans searched through the city: street-by-street, house-by-house.
There was no escape possible. Aktion Rosenstock was the German code name for what took place that day: the largest razzia (roundup) carried out by the German occupier in the Netherlands during the Second World War.
To put this into context, the south and the East of the Netherlands had been liberated a few months before.
In the icy rain, 50,000 men (from a total population of 600,000) were taken away to work as slave labourers.
One of them was Gerard Pakker. He was sent to a coal mine near the German city of Essen. In January 1945, he managed to escape. After a roundabout journey lasting two months, penniless and in tattered clothing, he finally arrived home. The first thing his mother exclaimed was: ‘Oh poor child, just look at you!